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Interview with TINA DAVIS, A&R at Def Jam for Dru Hill, Montell Jordan, LL Cool J, Method Man - Sep 18, 2000

ďA good song used to be enough, but it isnít anymore. We sign stars!Ē

picture As A&R at Island / Def Jam in New York, Tina Davis is working with American R&B/rap acts such as LL Cool J, Dru Hill, Method Man, DMX etc. Her first job was "This Is How We Do It" for Montell Jordan.

What are you working on at the moment?

I am working on LL Cool J, Music, Say Yes, Soulfood Soundtrack, Player, Montell Jordan, Dru Hill, Red Man, Method Man and I am trying to get DMX to make a new album.

How do you find new talent?

It really depends - sometimes through lawyers, managers, looking at charts, sometimes our own artists recommend other artists. Also we have this new site called where people can download their music and biographies onto our site. But the best way of finding acts is really through people that weíve worked with before. They know what we like, they know our lifestyle.

Have the ways changed for finding artists?

I donít really think ways of finding acts have really changed. The only thing that might be different is that we pay more attention to what happens in the regions. We look at local radio stations, charts, etc. And we sometimes see local acts with more airplay than our acts, and then it might be worth checking it out.

Do you use Internet for work purposes?

No, not yet, but most definitely in the near future!

Do you only work with finished productions or do you have any creative input?

We are like a family, we are all involved in the process. After a couple of tracks are finished, weíll play them in our A&R meeting where all the people from different departments like promotion, marketing, administration, etc. So basically we are a real team where everybody is asked to think about the creative process of our acts.

Which acts do you consider your greatest achievement and what was the key to success with them?

Mastering Montell Jordanís "This Is How We Do It" because it was my first job. The key to success is working hard. Our motto is: ĎThe radio never stops broadcasting on weekends.í Everybody works hard and you know that our average age at the company is 27! Thatís what I mean, hard work!

What would you like to have done differently?

Something I regret is going to Columbia. I had worked at Def Jam for six years but when they had plans to merge with Island records I started to feel insecure, because nobody could guarantee my deal until their deal was signed. So I thought OK, ColumbiaÖ. but after seven months I came back screaming to Def Jam. The people at my office here call my 7 months at Columbia my "lunch break". And thatís what it was Ö

How long is the process of signing an act?

That entirely depends on the artist and their lawyers. There is nothing else to say about it.

On the basis of what do you sign an act?

A good song used to be enough, but it isnít anymore. We sign stars! Jeff Fenster once said to me: ĎEverybody can get things right up to 85%, but that last 15% is where itís at. Thatís the hard part. That 15% makes the difference between an artist and a star. A star is someone you can put in rags and that will still shine. A star just has this little extra, you canít really put your finger on it what it is Ö But thatís the reason to sign an artist.

Whatís the difference between Columbia and Def Jam?

When I went to Columbia it seemed like it was the natural thing to do to get to the next level. Itís an enormous corporate company where everything is arranged properly, but I just didnít feel like I belonged there. But now I found that I could still move to the next level within Def Jam. Theyíll have to kick me out before Iíll leave Def Jam.

What do you do different to other A&Rs?

I couldnít really say, but if I have to say something it would be that we go for a good track and not for a big name. Some people might consider it a risk not to work with a big producer, but we like to work with people no one has ever heard of.

What has become clearer to you over the years with respect to A&R representation?

The amount of hours this job demands! You get up early and go to bed late. You know, when Iím 50 I would like to look like Iím 35, but thatís not very likely to happen with this lifestyle. And because of those long hours you hardly have a personal life. I didnít really realize this when I started, but thatís just the way it is. I love A&R, so Iím willing to put in the hours.

What is your attitude towards Napster?

Thereís not a lot I would like to say about it, just that thereís a lot of money to be made out there. If people would start to work together, everybody could benefit!

Can you offer some words of advice to unsigned artists with respect to submitting material?

Never stop wanting it! Believe in yourself, be disciplined and listen a lot to music. Listening to other people makes you learn. Also learn how the business works. Your music should be like your child, you should only give it into the hands of people that you know will take care of it properly.

I am involved in a panel organized by the people that are responsible for the Grammyís. The purpose of this panel is to show unsigned artists the process of signing an act and what is to be expected of them. We take them through all the different aspects, such as going to lawyers, managers, signing a deal, making an album, doing promotion, etc. Itís fun, weíve got Montell Jordan on the panel, marketing people from Columbia, lawyers, managers, we are trying to get quotes from Babyface.

A lot of artists make the mistake of sending too much material. Donít send 10 or 11 songs, send 3 or 4 potential singles and maybe a picture.

Very important also is to make sure that people can relate to your music. If you talk about your own life you can be certain a lot of people will have similar experiences and therefore connect with your music. Musically, try to reinvent yourself all the time. Thatís very important.

What will you be doing in 5-10 years from now?

Starting a family, damn it! Maybe start my own music supervision company. But I said to myself that I am not gonna leave Def Jam until itís a 400 million dollar company.

What was your favourite album of last year?

Wow, tough question, and you donít want me to be political, right? Iíd say Dru Hill. Okay Ö Destinyís Child and Jay-Z, because I listened to the whole album. I think they were great because the album is so diverse.

What do you think about HitQuarters and how do you value it for unsigned artists?

Itís very informative! Iíve never seen anything like it! You have a lot of different kinds of information and itís very detailed. I think itís similar to what weíre trying to do on this panel, which is get people to understand the business. I think itís a very valuable source of information!

Interviewed by Marlene Smits

Next week: Niclas Anker, A&R at Universal, Denmark for Aqua, Barcode Brothers etc.

Read On ...